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Jim Molinari
Position: Head Coach
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Molinari Videos

33 Years as a Division I Coach

Jim Molinari took over the Western Illinois program at the start of the 2008-09 season, and during his fourth and fifth seasons at the helm Molinari led the Leathernecks to back-to-back College Basketball Invitationals. The two postseason appearances were the Leathernecks’ first-ever in their Division I history.

Western grew into one of The Summit League’s top teams during the 2012-13 season after earning a share of The Summit League’s regular season title and earning the most wins in the program’s NCAA Division I history. Coach Molinari was recognized by earning the league’s ‘Coach of the Year’ honor. Molinari was also tabbed National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) All-District 12 ‘Coach of the Year’. He was additionally recognized as The Summit League’s ‘Coach of the Year’ by CollegeInsider.com and College Sports Madness. Besides leading Western to a share of The Summit League regular season title and earning the most wins in the program’s NCAA Division I history, Molinari and the Leathernecks also finished the season as statistical champions, having committed less fouls per game than anyone else in NCAA Division I basketball. The Leathernecks ranked second nationally in scoring defense, giving up just 52.6 points per game, while also ranking in the top 75 of six other categories. Western also made its second postseason appearance in as many year when they traveled to Big Ten member Purdue’s home court for the 2013 College Basketball Invitational. Molinari guided the Leathernecks in their NCAA RPI turnaround as well, staring the season at 163, and finishing at 137. Western’s highest ranking came on February 8 when it was rated 102. 

In addition to the team’s impressive 22-9 record, Western earned a share of the league’s 2012-13 regular season crown with a 13-3 Summit League mark. The conference record tied WIU’s 1994-95 season (13-5) for most Summit League wins, but the .812 win percentage stands alone in first place. Since becoming a NCAA Division I program, the Leathernecks’ records at home (12-2) and away from home (10-7) both rank second all-time. Western won 11 straight games from a November 29 victory at South Dakota until a January 17 loss at home to South Dakota State, the most in its DI history, making them undefeated in the month of December for the first time since 1957-58. 

Attendance also climbed to heights the program had not seen since the late 80’s. A total of 5,089 fans packed Western Hall in Western’s regular season championship clinching victory over South Dakota on March 2, the largest single-game attendance for the men’s basketball team since the 1987 season. The Fighting Leathernecks had two other games with more than 4,000 fans: first when they played host to South Dakota State on Jan. 17 (4,163), and again when Cleveland State visited Western Hall on Feb. 23 (4,259). Western also had 3,973 fans pack Western Hall on Jan. 19 versus North Dakota State. There were more than 1,200 fans at every game, something that was only accomplished four times during the 2011-12 season, twice during the 2010-11 season, and three times during the 2009-10 season. The 2012-13 Leathernecks also averaged 2,454 fans per game which is the most since the 1998-99 season.

Molinari coached Terell Parks who was tabbed NABC All-District 12 Second Team, The Summit League’s ‘Defensive Player of the Year’ and All-Summit League First Team, Ceola Clark III who earned All-Summit League First Team honors, and Adam Link who was named to the All-Newcomer Team.

The 2011-12 Leathernecks took part in the 2012 College Basketball Invitational presented by Zebra Pen after making an exciting run in The Summit League Tournament that included wins over North Dakota State and top-seeded Oral Roberts, before a heartbreaking, overtime loss to South Dakota State in the championship game. 

Western’s quarterfinal win over NDSU was the program’s first tournament win since the 1999 tournament, and the Leathernecks’ appearance in the title game was the first since 1997. After being picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the preseason poll, Western finished 2011-12 with an 18-15 overall record, went 9-9 in Summit League games, and earned the fourth seed in the conference tournament. Western’s winning record marked the first of its kind in 12 years, and the team’s 18 wins was the most since the 1996-97 season when the Leathernecks went 19-10. Compared to the rest of the nation, Western concluded the season ranked in the top-30 of four national categories, including: 11th in personal fouls per game (15.0), 12th in three-point field goal percentage (39.5), 22nd in scoring defense (60.2), and 27th in turnovers per game (11.4). The Leathernecks were also able to draw more fans to Western Hall in 2011-12 than in years past, seeing a season-high 2,276 fans attend the Leathernecks’ season-finale win over Nebraska-Omaha. Western also drew 2,124 fans for Oakland, 1,897 versus IUPUI and 1,624 against Eastern Illinois, the four-highest home attendance games since playing Indiana at home in the 2005-06 season (5,021). 

Under the guidance of Molinari, three Leathernecks earned Summit League honors, led by Clark who was tabbed ‘Defensive Player of the Year’ for the second time in his career, as well as Second Team All-Conference. Clark is the only player in league history to have earned the ‘DPOY’ honor twice. Clark was also tabbed 2012 Mid-Major Defensive All-American by CollegeInsider.com. Parks was named All-Summit League Honorable Mention, and to the league’s All-Newcomer team, while freshman Obi Emegano was also a member of the All-Newcomer team.

In 2010-11, Molinari reached the 250 career win plateau on Dec. 8, 2010 with a home victory over Culver-Stockton. While the team battled injuries to starters (13 different starting line-ups), Molinari helped guide senior Matt Lander to an honorable-mention All-Summit League honor. Lander, who was also named to the Mayan Division All-Tournament Team at 2010 Cancun Challenge, led the Summit League in made free throws (164) and also topped the Fighting Leathernecks in scoring (17.0 ppg), assists (2.7 apg) and minutes played (36.2 mpg). As a team, Western Illinois led the Summit League in scoring defense (64.8 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (42.9%).

In the 2009-10 season, Molinari led Western to The Summit League Tournament with sophomore Ceola Clark earning both Summit League Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-Conference honors. It was the first time in program history that a Western player earned the yearly accolade and the first time in 10 years that the Leathernecks had a first team member.

In his first season (2008-09) he began a rebuilding process of the Fighting Leatherneck program and coached the Fighting Leathernecks to the best conference start since the 1997-98 season. Molinari coached Western’s highest leading scorer since the 1996-97 season in senior David DuBois, also a Summit League all-conference selection.

Off the court, Molinari’s team excelled in the classroom as it earned a 3.231 team GPA for the Fall 2008 semester, the best GPA of the men’s basketball team for at least 11 years and a higher GPA then that of the average on Macomb’s campus (2.880). The Leathernecks had 10 players on the roster with a 3.0 GPA or better and two players with a perfect 4.0 GPA. DuBois became one of only two league players to earn 2008-09 CoSida/ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District First Team honors. In the following season, senior David Nurse became the only Summit League player to earn the 2009-10 CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District First Team award as a first-year graduate student.

In 2007-08, Molinari served as an assistant coach at Ball State, following a three-year stint at Minnesota in which he was the interim head coach for most of the 2006-07 season. Throughout his career he has appeared in 21 postseason tournaments, including nine as a head coach.

In his first season as an assistant at Minnesota, his defensive emphasis helped the Gophers rank third in Big Ten scoring defense (62.7 points per game), just a half-point behind Michigan State and two points behind Illinois. They led the league in field goal percentage defense (.424) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.274) in conference play, and allowed 62.9 points per league game, the fewest since the 1981-82 season. In 2005, Street & Smith’s named Molinari the “best assistant in the Big Ten Conference.”

For 11 seasons, from 1991-2002, Molinari was the head coach at Bradley University, where he amassed a 174-152 (.534) record and guided the Braves to the postseason six times - five National Invitation Tournament appearances and the 1996 NCAA Tournament.

From 1989-91, he was the head coach at Northern Illinois, where he posted a record of 42-17 (.712). The Huskies won the 1991 Mid-Continent Conference title, going 25-6 and setting a school record for wins.

At DePaul from 1979-89, Molinari helped both Ray and Joey Meyer return the Blue Demons to national prominence. Over 10 seasons at DePaul, Molinari helped recruit college and professional stars such as Mark Aguirre, Dallas Comegys, Tyrone Corbin, Terry Cummings and Rod Strickland -- players who led DePaul to nine NCAA Tournaments and a runner-up finish in the NIT.

A Defensive Mindset That Turns Programs Around

While at Western, Molinari’s defenses have finished in the top 25 nationally three times. After inheriting a program that finished #234 in  scoring defense in 2007-08, Molinari’s defense jumped up to #100 after his first year. In only his second season at Western, the Leatherneck defense opened 2010 in the NCAA statistical rankings as it held opponents to 58.2 points per game for a No. 22 ranking out of 334 teams (1/4/10). By the week of February 22, Western had reached its highest ranking of the season as it sat at No. 10 for the first time. Western closed out its season with the No. 16 ranking as it held opponents to only 60.1 points per game, leading the Summit League. After an injury plagued 2010-11 season, the Leathernecks defense jumped back up into the top 25 as WIU finished #22 at seasons end. A year later Western finished #2 in the country in scoring defense in 2012-13 after allowing 53.6 points per game throughout the year, the second lowest average in Western history, and lowest in the program’s Division I history.

A three-time conference ‘Coach of the Year’ -- 1991 Mid-Continent Conference, 1996 Missouri Valley Conference, and 2013 Summit League -- Molinari’s coaching success was built on defense. While averaging better than 17 wins per season, Molinari’s first 12 teams finished among the nation’s top-24 defensive squads 10 times.

In his two years at NIU, his teams finished fifth and second, respectively, in team defense on the national level. In his first nine years at Bradley, the Braves placed among the nation’s leaders in all but two seasons for either points allowed per game or field goal percentage allowed.

At Northern, Molinari inherited a program that had not won as many as 17 games in a season since 1981, but made a quick turnaround with a 17-win season followed by a 25-win campaign. At Bradley, he took over a program that managed just a 32-54 mark in the three previous years. He needed just two years to right the ship before beginning a three-year stretch of 20-win seasons, which included two trips to the NIT and one to the NCAA Tournament. He left Bradley with more league wins than any other active coach in the Missouri Valley. 

Academic Focus

Molinari has graduated nearly 90 percent of his student-athletes during his head coaching career, and while at Bradley, 24 out of 26 senior student-athletes received their degrees. 

Molinari earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1977 and earned a Juris Doctor from DePaul in 1980.

As a Player

His college playing career began at Kansas State, where he teamed with current UNLV head coach Lon Kruger for two seasons. After transferring to Illinois Wesleyan, where he teamed with former NBA center Jack Sikma, Molinari helped the Titans win consecutive league titles, before entering the coaching ranks in 1978 as a part-time assistant with DePaul.

Additional Coaching Opportunities

In addition to his collegiate coaching experience, Molinari is a veteran of national selection committees for international competition. He led the 1997 USA Basketball men’s team to a gold medal at the World University Games played in Trapani, Italy.

For two years in-between collegiate coaching positions, Molinari was an NBA scout for the Toronto Raptors (2002-03) and Miami Heat (2003-04).

2013-14 Western Illinois Head Coach 10-19  
2012-13 Western Illinois Head Coach 22-9 CBI Tournament
2011-12 Western Illinois Head Coach 18-15 CBI Tournament
2010-11 Western Illinois Head Coach 7-23  
2009-10 Western Illinois Head Coach 13-17  
2008-09 Western Illinois Head Coach 9-20  
2007-08 Ball State
Assistant Coach
6-24

2006-07
Minnesota
Head Coach (interim)
7-17

2005-06
Minnesota
Assistant Coach
16-15
NCAA Tournament
2004-05
Minnesota
Assistant Coach
21-11
NIT
2001-02
Bradley
Head Coach
9-20

2000-01
Bradley
Head Coach
19-12
NIT
1999-00
Bradley
Head Coach
14-16

1998-99
Bradley
Head Coach
17-12
NIT
1997-98
Bradley
Head Coach
15-14

1996-97
Bradley
Head Coach
17-13
NIT
1995-96 Bradley
Head Coach
22-8 NCAA Tournament
1994-95
Bradley
Head Coach
20-10
NIT
1993-94
Bradley
Head Coach
23-8 NIT
1992-93
Bradley
Head Coach
11-16

1991-92
Bradley
Head Coach
7-23

1990-91
Northern Illinois
Head Coach
25-6
NCAA Tournament
1989-90
Northern Illinois
Head Coach
17-11

1988-89
DePaul
Assistant Coach
26-12
NCAA Tournament
1987-88
DePaul
Assistant Coach
22-8
NCAA Tournament
1986-87
DePaul
Assistant Coach
28-3
NCAA Tournament
1985-86
DePaul
Assistant Coach
18-13
NCAA Tournament
1984-85
DePaul
Assistant Coach
19-10
NCAA Tournament
1983-84
DePaul
Assistant Coach
27-3
NCAA Tournament
1982-83
DePaul
Assistant Coach
21-12
NIT runners-up
1981-82
DePaul
Assistant Coach
26-2
NCAA Tournament
1980-81
DePaul
Assistant Coach
27-2
NCAA Tournament
1979-80
DePaul
Assistant Coach
26-2
NCAA Tournament

Total as head coach

at Western Illinois

(20th season)

(6th season)

302-289

79-103

2 NCAA Tournaments
5 NITs, 2 CBIs


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